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With all the difficulties and dangers surrounding a curatorial project that explores the diffuse panorama of emerging art in our country, the exhibition presented by Manuel Segade at the Panera in Lleida is a singular exercise in cartography that lends itself to various readings and comments. Neither an official statement nor a promotional edition, the show is a critical outline that allows us to continue to think about the question of the paradigm.
The modern paradigm is passed through the shredder of the post-modern debate, a gute form design of implacable discursive efficiency. The result has been a rhetorical mass of political and aesthetic elements that can be savoured alternately according to the moment or specific context: making it possible to analyse the paradigm of Western modernity, to imagine the continuity of its critique or its failure, to agonize over it at all costs, to map it in a branching structure, predict its mutation or describe its more political alter-modernity. In any event, the question of the paradigm is an analytical key used by the critic Manuel Segade as the title for an exhibition project, of a documentary nature, presented in the Centre d’Art la Panera of Lleida, that offers a meaningful map of the current Catalan art scene: “La Cuestión del Paradigma. Genealogías de la Emergencia en el Arte Contemporáneo en Cataluña” (The Question of the Paradigm, Emerging Genealogies in Contemporary Art in Catalonia).
The exhibition uses the language of Warburg, located in the image of the Atlas Mnemosyne as a recipe for the history of art, cross-referencing artworks with other materials. It is presented to the public in the form of an archive, with tables and graphic charts, with materials that establish iconographic and conceptual relationships through superimposition and historic diachrony. As in the game of the goose, we have to venture into the labyrinth of the paradigm, avoiding dangers and alternately retreating, without abandoning the impulse to question and the possibility of an interpretative challenge.
Manuel Segade conceives of the collection of materials (maps, quotations, texts, editions, works, etc.) as a non-linear story of genealogical narration, attending to complex analogies that are made manifest in any intent to analyse the stories and assuming the Benjaminian potential of the passages that carry the thread of the argument, through quotations. The genealogical terminology of the title places special emphasis on discrediting any form of unique origin as the avatar of the so-called organic nature of history, accepting, in the style of Michel Foucault, the discontinuous and accidental character of experience and cultural structures. As a genealogist, the curator applies a similar method by which he characterises the very production of the emerging artist: investigation, critical reading, narrative process and direct intervention on the vulnerability of the conventional regime of representation. Rejecting as well any attempt at objectivity or aesthetic hierarchies.
The project, far removed from the cultural centralism of Barcelona and its institutions, doesn’t function simply as an exhibition that fills the Panera with works and words, but has a desire to create a reading and critical space in the periphery. This is the first mission of the exhibition. It is a new map of the panorama of emerging creation, not a lesson, nor a final response on the subject, more of an open process. It is the result of a series of interviews with artists and curators, the study of material written about emerging art in Catalonia, a recompilation of publications by artists and art centres, as well as the attention paid by critics towards some authors and contexts, that don’t function as a declaration of principles. The choice of contexts, names and works, that trace the pathway through the rooms of the Panera is applied in the same methodological guide in the catalogue, a recompilation of photocopied documents, spiral bound in a gorilla aesthetic.
The second mission is to trace the lines of research that structure the formalization of the exhibition around current art practices, shown in graphic form in the catalogue and in the exhibition rooms with maps interlaced between geometric unities or lists of variable typographies. For example, the one dedicated to the key names in the system of contemporary art (MACBA) in front of the names of the emerging art system such as Can Felipa in Poblenou, Espai Zero1 in Olot, the Sala d’Art Jove in Barcelona or Can Xalant in Mataró, amongst others. Visualizing the data reveals the fundamental role played by the small-scale spaces, the production centres and the active spirit of the periphery. Amongst these cartographies what stands out is the system of open submissions that have given visibility and publicity to emerging artists in Catalonia, fundamental indicators in the exhibition: the visual arts competition Premi Miquel Casablancas being paradigmatic. The importance of the production projects which different organisms have produced with emerging artists in the last years, be it BCN Producció or Idensitat. Less topographical is the analysis of the productive convergence between creation and curatorial activity by cultural agents, critics and artists, capable of inventing exhibition formats and curatorial alternatives in private or precarious spaces (Sala Hab by Martí Manen or Se busca by laPinta). Particularly relevant in this sense is the local panorama, less institutional and more creative. And also the capacity of artists and critics to instrument editorial projects. The photonic role of the art centres in the formation of new authors, as well as the role of the Association of Visual Artists of Catalonia, another key that the curator draws with a geometric pattern.
The third mission is to give a voice and name to a genealogy of the artistic nature of emerging production, indicating various key terms with regard to current neo-conceptual practices: the legitimization of the work in process (the insertion of temporality in the work and its visibility in the exhibition space), the impulse to narrate (the nature of the process across literary, videographic and performative frontiers), the aesthetic of the gag (the joke as a basic linguistic structure) and the discourse surrounding production (the reflection upon the economic and political makeup of the field of art as a cultural industry). In this relation of contexts, languages and authors – in the trail of Bourdieu -, one needs to add a new tag that would make it possible to reunite works or attitudes that are more committed to a critical reading of the grand utopian paradigm of modernity, grouping together more political and social projects that have arisen, in relation, for example, to the production programme of Idensitat.
If contemporary art functions as a field of alternative thought and occupies an intermediary position between different subjectivities, the aesthetic of the gag is neither more effective nor vernacular than other more analytical and direct forms of production installed in the social arena. The term map acts as a metaphor and serves to recognise, debate, negotiate and transform a reality. The productions that trace readings about historical memory, class struggles or community empowerment, document and subvert aesthetic and political orders and should have their place in this genealogy. It is not about pointing a finger at the absences and omissions, amongst other reasons because it is a project that doesn’t want to legitimize, maintaining a spirit of research, which anyway has elaborated vital study material, as much for the discovery of a cultural geography as to debate it.
Put concisely this is the general scheme of the exhibition, where a few works by some emerging artists are placed in a room along with other authors from an older generation, within the spectre of the “generational mirrors” (the link with predecessors, complicity or generational identification). There are almost fifty artists’ names referred to in the study. The list includes three generational levels with the curator using his criteria to draw a family tree of the same lineage: Ignasi Aballí, Dora García and Carlos Pazos occupy an upper level, with Carles Congost and Martí Ansón in the intermediate level and Efrén Álvarez, Serafín Álvarez, Luz Broto, Mireia C. Saladrigues and Fito Conesa amongst others with recent contributions.
The exhibition motivates us to abandon the centralism of Barcelona and to reread the paradigm of emerging art production through contexts and current discourses. It invites us to analyse, question and evaluate the relations between artists and curators, institutions and production, between formation and marketing, languages and formats, indeed everything that is produced in the common territories of contemporary art. The project generates understanding about the reality of art today, even though at the end of the exhibition, tempted to arrive at the interpretative challenge, one is hit by a doubt: do the artists and the works in the space respond to the cognitive maps of the study of this panorama of emerging art or do the cartographies adapt to them?
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)